Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Summer Reading List, Week Two

It seems that this week, there has been an inadvertent theme: women of privilege. (I didn't plan for it, it's just that these were the books that happened to come in on hold from the library.)

I started to say that this was a particularly heavy chick-lit kind of week - but a few of these books were so enjoyable and/or well-written that it seems like belittling them to tar them with the "chick-lit" brush...
Plus, I did get a non-fiction read in there, as well. I like reading non-fiction, even though I don't manage to do it as often as I would like. I somehow feel smarter when I read non-fiction...

So here we go:
  • A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity - Kathleen Gilles Seidel
    Lydia Meadows is a former lawyer who has long since become a professional mommy. She's hyper-involved in her children's tony Washington D.C. private school. Despite this involvement, she is surprised upon her daughter's entrance into sixth grade to learn that her daughter, Erin, has become one of the school's "popular girls". (Surprised, because she was always a shy, loner type of kid.) Just as Lydia comes to grips with her daughter's new-found popularity, a new girl joins the sixth grade and begins angling for Erin's place in the clique. Big questions are raised: how much can you intervene in the social life of your children? How much should you? And is it possible that your daughter's popularity is a reflection of your own???

    This was probably my favorite of the bunch, and the one that I would recommend first. I really loved this.
    Gilles Seidel does an amazing job of creating Lydia, and all the situations, all the dialog, all her worries and reservations just ring so true.
    I don't know if it's a great eye for details, or an even better ear for dialog, but Gilles Seidel just hit the nail on the head in her portrayals of these people.
    I found it surprisingly thought-provoking for a novel, too. It really made me think about Schecky's teenage years, and how they'll be here all too soon. It also really made me think about the choices that we make for our children - and who are we really making them for? Our children, or ourselves? This is an unexpectedly powerful novel about parenthood, about making the tough choices, and about seeing your children for who they really are.
    Did I already mention that I really loved this one?
    Verdict: Both Thumbs Way Up

  • The Elements of Style - Wendy Wasserstein
    The short version is that this is a novel about the ladies who lunch, and their attempts to adapt their never-ending quest for one-upmanship to a post 9/11 world. However, Wasserstein's talents makes this much more than that. She manages to be both compassionate and wry about her at the same time, which is no easy feat.

    First, a disclaimer - I love Wendy Wasserstein's plays. I have long been a fan of hers, and basically any novel she wrote, I was going to read. She passed away not too long ago, and she will be missed.
    This book is also populated with Manhattan's monied class (see below), but focuses more on their lives and relationships in a post 9/11 world. A few parts of the book felt somewhat dated, but her ear for dialog and her skill at using words to really allow us to get to know her characters and understand these seemingly inexplicable characters more than make up for that slight datedness.
    Verdict: Thumbs Up

  • The Debutante Divorcee - Plum Sykes
    Sykes visits the world of her first novel - however, instead of rich young party girls on the prowl for Mr. Right, this novel is celebrates fabulously wealthy, not-quite-as-young-women who have divested themselves of their first husbands. The opening sentence sums it up nicely: "Married girls in New York these days put almost as much effort into losing husbands as they once did into finding them."

    I'm not going to try to pass this off as great literature, but I did really enjoy it. Which was a pleasant surprise, because I almost didn't bother to put this one on hold, since I didn't think that Sykes's first novel, Bergdorf Blondes, was all that great (despite the huge amount of attention it got at the time.) I am glad that I did read it though, as I thought that it was a nice little romp through the lives of the extremely wealthy Manhattanites that populate its pages.

    The characters are better defined than I remember from Bergdorf Blondes, and it was a quick paced little read. It reads somewhat like a Candace Bushnell short story, somewhat like a Dominick Dunne novel. Personally, I like both Candace and Dominick, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed this book.
    Verdict: Thumbs Up

  • Rattled - Debra Galant
    Heather Peters is a striving, ambitious social-climber who has just convinced her long-suffering husband to purchase them a McMansion in the newly developed Galapagos Estates. Heather has visions and plans about how she's going to take the new neighborhood by storm. That is, until a series of mishaps stems from the fact that Heather's precious house has been built atop a rattlesnake preserve. An endangered rattlesnake preserve. Due to these mishaps, Heather is labeled as a snake-killer and is hauled off to jail (dragged off in handcuffs in front of all her peers at a back-to-school night function at her son's school!) She finds herself at the center of a media firestorm, and the object of hatred to a local conservation group. But Heather doesn't get mad, she gets even. And she has the developer of Galapagos Estates in her sights...

    OK - this was a little, silly, fun book - and I enjoyed it. You know how sometimes reviewers refer to a book as a great romp? Well, I think this definitely falls into the "romp" category...
    Imagine if Carl Hiaasen was writing about crooked suburban developers in New Jersey (instead of crooked condo developers in Florida) - this is the book that he would write. There was a blurb on the back of the book that made this comparison, but I reiterate it here because it's a really good one: the clever wit, the quirky characters, the crazy "oh no, that didn't just happen" situations, the happy resolution that end with evil developer getting the appropriate comeuppance that make up the Hiaasen formula? They're all there.
    Please don't think that I am implying that this book seems derivative, that's not what I mean at all. Just trying to let you know that it's a crazy, fast paced read. It's not serious or weighty, but it's a heck of a ride!
    Verdict: Thumbs Up

  • Some Like It Haute - Julie K.L. Dam
    Fashion reporter goes to Paris's fashion week. She gets caught up in mystery! intrigue! romance! Sounds interesting, right? More like painfully contrived and clichéd. Mediocre, even for chick-lit.

    Um....This reads as if an editor at People magazine got a book contract and then proceeded to write 293 pages of designer name-dropping. Amidst the unending references to Prada! Gucci! Jimmy Choo! there is a very weak mystery (which you won't care about) and the ubiquitous girl-meets-boy, boy-isn't-what-he-seems, girl-obsesses-ala-Bridget-Jones plot line (which you won't care about either, because this book has none of Bridget's cleverness or wit or heart.) Oh, wait - this book was written by an editor at People magazine for the sole purpose of dropping a bunch of designer names and... blather blather blather. I've wasted too much time on this already.
    Verdict: Thumbs Down

  • Devil in the Details: Scenes from an Obsessive Girlhood - Jennifer Traig
    The author describes her struggle withObsessivee Compulsive Disorder from which she suffered from the age of 12 until she left home to attend college. In addition to the rituals that we think of when we hear OCD, (like thecompulsivee hand-washing, etc.) the author got bonus helping of anorexia and scrupulosity (in which OCD takes on hyper-religious overtones, and adds compulsive prayer to the mix.)

    This was this week's non-fiction entry. It wasn't bad, but I didn't love it, either.
    I hate to say this, because I don't want to seem like I am belittling the author's struggles with OCD - but honestly, I thought this would be more interesting.
    Traig does have a clever turn of phrase at times, but she seems a bit self-congratulatory about it. Most of the funny one-liners in the book come off with a strained kind of "Ain't I Cool?" inflection... Seems like she can't decide if she wants to share her story, or turn it into a open-mic routine...
    I'm not regretting the time that I spent reading this book, but I'm not going to tell you that you need to run right out and buy it, either.
    Verdict: No Thumbs


capello said...

Good golly, you read all of those this week? WTF?

Going back to that first book, I was never really all that popular in school. Everyone knew me because I was the photo editor for the newspaper, and I always got along with everyone, but as far as being friends with everyone, not so much. I use to really want my kids to be popular (back when I was in school), but now I don't. In fact, I think I'll be disappointed if they are popular. Does that go against the norm?

Editrix said...

I rather liked Emily Colas's Just Checking, though my cheesecloth brain doesn't recall too many specifics. You may be OCD'ed out by now, though!

bekka said...

look at what you're reading. how did you find time to read all that?

can you read and knit at the same time? is there some reason why there are no photos of you on your blog? are you really an octopus? i mean, i'd love to have eight arms, really. so i'm not going to stop reading or commenting just because you have more arms than usual (note, i didn't say Normal).

what was i gonna comment on? i hate it when this comment window pops up and i can't refer back to what i just read. guess that's called no short-term memory. or something to do with retention.

so, if you don't mind me clogging up your comments and inbox, i'll just post this, scoot back up there, and see what i forgot all about.

bekka said...

it was Carl Hiaasen. i love him. so you read him? he's so much fun. i'll see if my public library has that book you compared it to.

jen said...

wait you are reading all of those in ONE WEEK????? holy books batman!

i'm just trying to finish the time traveler's wife but i keep leaving it at nat's.